Landers Nolley II scored a career-high 27 points with seven of Memphis’ season-high 14 made 3-pointers, and the Tigers advanced to their first NIT championship game since winning the title in 2002 with a 90-67 semifinal win over Colorado State on Saturday.
Nolley scored 24 of his points after halftime, after Lester Quinones made three 3s in a 22-2 run in the first half that put the Tigers (19-8) ahead to stay. DeAndre Williams finished with 21 points for Memphis, and Quinones had 18 with four 3s.
David Roddy had 18 points and Isaiah Stevens 17 for Colorado State (20-7).
Memphis came up just short of their first NCAA Tournament since 2013-14 in the third season of former player Penny Hardaway coaching his alma mater.
The Tigers are 9-2 since the start of February, both one-possession losses six days apart against NCAA tourney Sweet 16 team Houston. The sixth-ranked Cougars won 76-74 in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, five days after hitting a last-second 3 at home to beat Memphis 67-64 in the regular-season finale.
The Tigers were a No. 1 seed in the NIT, which was reduced from its usual 32 to 16 teams and is being played in North Texas because of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the event’s cancellation last year. It is the first time the final NIT games are being played outside of New York City.
After Roddy started the second half with a 3 to get Colorado State within three points, Memphis responded with a 16-3 run in which Nolley hit a 3 and scored seven points.
Memphis made its big run before halftime came, while the Rams missed 10 consecutive shots over a stretch of more than six minutes. After the 3s by Quinones, the Tigers led 37-23 on a jumper by Damion Baugh with 3:40 left in the first half.
The Rams also got off to a slow start, missing their first four shots before going ahead 21-15 on a jumper by Stevens midway through the first half. Stevens hit a 3 in the final minute to cut the halftime deficit to 44-38.
Memphis shot 55.7% overall (34 of 61), and 51.9% (14 of 27) from 3. The Rams made 38.5% (20 of 52) of their shots against the pressing Tigers’ defense, and had 13 turnovers that led to 21 points for Memphis.
The NIT championship game, more than 1,500 miles from Madison Square Garden, with the Tigers facing the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal game that matched No. 4 seeds Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech. Colorado State plays the loser in a consolation game.